Release or Crucifixion?

Lectio: Luke 23:13-23  (NRSV) 13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” 18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

Contemplation: “Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” (23:20,21)

Meditation: The accusations against Jesus that were brought before Pilate alleged that Jesus was forbidding Israel to pay taxes to the emporer Tiberias and the he was claiming to be the Messiah, the true King (23:1). Tax assessments and collections fell under the jurisdiction of Provincial governers and various local magistrates. The allegations against Jesus were that his teachings on non-payment of taxes to the Emporer undermined Pilate’s emperial mandate and authority to collect taxes from the people in the province on behalf of the Roman republic. 

After investigating the allegations, Pilate does not find enough evidence to convict Jesus of the charges (23:14). On the charges of “Perversion of the people with seditionist teachings that insurrect the established order,” both Pilate and Herod find Jesus, the defendant, “Not guilty!”

Pilate’s declaration of the innocence of Jesus and his ruling of acquittal is immediately met with crowd disapproval and hostility. A dispute ensues between Pilate and the crowd about the penalty that Jesus should pay. The threatened leaders want Jesus dead. They are savvy to target and isolate Pilate. They ramp up the pressure on Pilate to live up the rules of the Empire. Pilate’s decision adversely activates the people. They loudly protest to signal to Pilate the strength of their opinion and to clarify more precisely what they want. They want Pilate to change his decision from “flogging” to the death penalty for Jesus by crucifixion. Their voices prevail and Pilate succumbs to their demands (23:23).

Today I meditate on the depths of the sorrow and grief Jesus experiences as the value of his good and innocent life becomes the object of the heated debate for the fate of his life. I meditate on what he observes about the inward corruption of the goodness of human nature as expressed through the clash and amping up of the political tactics of Pilate versus the political tactics of chief priests, the leaders and the people. I meditate on how the debate about Jesus was at some point not about Jesus, it was about which side would win to accomplish their personal and political objectives. I meditate on how Jesus identifies with so many vulnerable people in our world that stand in anxious wait and are ultimately crucified by debate outcomes and decisions.

Prayer: Today I pray for the grace to remember that Jesus stands with the vulnerable people that leaders debate and decide for resulting in either life or death, release or crucifixion. 

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